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Report No. 274

C. The Contempt of Courts Act, 1971

2.20 The Act 1971 was enacted to give effect to the recommendations contained in Sanyal Committee report of 1963. A perusal of the 'Statement of Objects and Reasons' of the Act 1971 shows that it was felt that the then existing law relating to Contempt of Courts was somewhat uncertain, undefined and unsatisfactory, and as the jurisdiction to punish for Contempt touches upon two important fundamental rights of the citizen, namely the right to personal liberty and the right to freedom of speech and expression, the subject required special scrutiny and consideration.

i) Section 2

2.21 Section 2 of the Act, defines "contempt of court", and distinguishes between "civil contempt" and "criminal contempt", reading as follows:

2. Definitions.

In this Act, unless the context otherwise requires, -

(a) "contempt of court" means civil contempt or criminal contempt;

(b) "civil contempt" means wilful disobedience to any judgment, decree, direction, order, writ or other process of a court or wilful breach of an undertaking given to a court;

(c) "criminal contempt" means the publication (whether by words, spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise) of any matter or the doing of any other act whatsoever which -

(i) scandalises or tends to scandalise, or lowers or tends to lower the authority of, any court; or

(ii) prejudices, or interferes or tends to interfere with, the due course of any judicial proceeding; or

(iii) interferes or tends to interfere with, or obstructs or tends to obstruct, the administration of justice in any other manner;

2.22 A disorderly conduct of a contemnor that causes serious damage to the institution of justice administration amounts to contempt. Such conduct can be categorised on the basis of its adverse effects and consequences under two heads:

(i) one, where it has a temporary effect on the system and/or the person concerned, such that will fade away with time;

(ii) other, where it causes permanent damage to the institution and to the administration of justice35.

2.23 Any conduct attributing improper motive to a Judge or any scurrilous abuse to a Judge will amount to scandalising the court under Section 2(c)(i) of the Act 197136.

2.24 Any speech tending to influence the result of a pending trial - civil or criminal - is a conduct of grave contempt. Such comments on pending proceedings from the concerned parties or their lawyers are generally a more serious contempt than those from any independent sources37.

(ii) Section 10

2.25 Section 10 of the Act deals with contempt of subordinate courts. It empowers the High Court to "exercise the same jurisdiction, powers and authority, in accordance with the same procedure and practice, in respect of contempt of courts subordinate to it as it has and exercises in respect of contempt of itself". Proviso to the section carves an exception for cases of contempt which amount to an offence punishable under the India Penal Code, barring the High Court from taking cognizance in such cases.

(iii) Section 12

2.26 This section prescribes the punishment for contempt of court and the limits thereto; also laying down specifics of punishment for when the contemnor is a company.

(iv) Sections 14 and15

2.27 Section 14 of the Act lays down the procedure for when the contempt is in presence or hearing of the Supreme Court or a High Court. Section 15 explains the procedure for dealing with criminal contempt (other than those addressed under section 14) of the higher courts and the subordinate courts.

2.28 The whole object of prescribing procedural mode of taking cognizance is to prevent wasting of the valuable time of the Court from frivolous contempt petitions38.

2.29 The consent of Advocate General is not necessary for the court to initiate contempt proceedings if the issue involved in the proceedings had greater impact on the administration of justice and on the justice delivery system39.

2.30 Pressing into service the law of contempt, the court may proceed suo motu or on a petition of an advocate of the court.40 To ensure fairness in procedure of contempt proceedings41, a notice should be issued to the contemnor and an opportunity of being heard must be given to him.42 A formal charge may not be necessary, however, adequate and pertinent details must be provided. Further, in case the procedure to conduct contempt proceedings has been prescribed or rules have been formed in this regard, the same is to be given adherence43.

2.31 In L. P. Misra v. State of U.P., AIR 1998 SC 3337, the Supreme Court held that when the High Court invokes its extraordinary powers under Article 215 of the Constitution, it must give strict adherence to the procedure prescribed by law.

(v) Section 16

2.32 Section 16 of the Act deals with contempt by a Judge, Magistrate or other person acting judicially. A Judge can foul judicial administration by misdemeanours while discharging the functions of a Judge44.

2.33 There has been a case of criminal contempt of gravest nature by the sitting judge of a High Court, bringing serious allegations against his colleagues on the bench and judges of the Supreme Court in public forums, but not substantiating nor contesting his stand when called upon to do so. In such an eventuality the contemnor judge was convicted and sentenced. (In re: C. S. Karnan, (2017) 2 SCC 756).

(vi) Section

2.34 This section specifies that the provisions of the Act 1971 are supplemental to the provisions of any other existing law relating to contempt of courts.

2.35 The Act provides for a fair procedure and restricts the power of the courts in relation to contempt of courts, compared to the position that was prior to the Act 1926. The power of the court to impose punishment for contempt of the court ceased to be uncontrolled or unlimited with the enactment of specific contempt of courts legislation - beginning with the Act 1926, and subsequently with that of 1952 and of 1971. The quantum of punishment or that of fine for contempt had to be provided for, with a right to appeal. As is evident from the judgement of the Calcutta High Court in the case of Legal Remembrancer (supra).

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